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The end of the password is nigh

Despite the many tech advances, the old fashioned ‘password’ is still being used for most online services. But, LEE NAIK, CEO of TransUnion Africa, believes this will soon come to an end with the likes of biometric and HMI authentication.

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We’ve come a long way in the last century. We’ve put a man on the moon and shot a car into space. We’ve gone from drive-ins to drones, and from telegrams to Twitter. But we still haven’t quite managed to shake one relic from the past: the password.

You’d think that a method of authentication that was rubbish when Ali Baba used it wouldn’t still be torturing us today, but the password has somehow survived well into the digital age. It was responsible for the first ever computer data breach, back in the 1960s, and even those involved in its creation and advancement don’t think too highly of it. 

People have been predicting the death of password protection as we know it for years – Bill Gates said it was heading for extinction back in 2014 – but the time might have finally come to bury it in the backyard. The World Wide Web Consortium has come up with a new browser authentication standard that replaces traditional logins with more intuitive and user-friendly authentication measures such as biometrics, security keys and fingerprint scanners. 

It’s not laziness, it’s energy conservation

Why does Bill’s prediction look like it’s finally about to come true? It’s not like there haven’t been advances in password technology before, from hash encryption to two-factor authentication and cryptography. But there’s a reason that most people default to terrible, easy-to-remember passwords like “qwerty” or “123456” – because experience matters more than anything else in shaping behaviour. 

Few people care what’s going on behind the scenes of the authentication process. What they recall is the pain of remembering multiple different logins across websites and devices, the friction of having to type in a random string of characters to access their favourite services, and the frustration of dealing with lost passwords. Talk about a Rube Goldberg machine!

You can ease the pain somewhat through password managers and UX workarounds, but the alphanumeric password is one of the most poorly designed digital experiences we encounter daily. Compare that to using the fingerprint scanner on your phone – a much more natural and intuitive form of authentication. Why would you ever choose a regular password over that? 

History is littered with the corpses of innovations that didn’t quite catch on, not because they weren’t technically good but because they were just too awkward to use. It’s why VR goggles haven’t quite caught fire but smartwatches have – it’s not about the technology itself; it’s the platform you use to engage with it. Despite this simple truth, organisations all too often get caught up in a tech or spec war, ignoring the way consumers access their products. 

The way you make me feel

What’s the most beloved brand in the world? Some of the usual suspects that top these lists include Google, Amazon, Netflix and Apple. Unsurprisingly, they also offer simple, yet masterful, interfaces for interacting with their service. Type what you want to know in a simple white box. Search for anything you want and buy it with one click. Choose an interesting-looking movie or TV show and click play. Yes, they offer rich product and service ecosystems, but that came later. First, they needed to make it as natural and pleasurable as possible for people to use them. 

Anyone who reads my columns regularly will know that I am a big Apple devotee, so it should come as no surprise that I’m the owner of an iPhone X. Being completely honest, I think the model is kind of gimmicky. But it also works. Having removed the bezel, the way you access the home screen is by swiping up. It’s a small change, but it just feels right.

Now the techies and iPhone sceptics among you might argue that there are better phones out there when it comes to features or technical quality. One of the major reasons for Apple’s love by consumers, though, is that it’s the ultimate experiential brand. Subtle interactions, like that upward swipe, epitomise that commitment to perfecting every aspect of the user experience, from purchase to use to support.

That’s why I have so much faith that Face ID will be a gamechanger. Sure, the implementation might not be perfect yet, but Apple will keep at it until it feels as natural for us as using a mouse or opening an email.  

Learn from the best

Most organisations can’t begin to compete with the level of experience design that brands like Apple and Google excel at, but they can adopt a more experiential approach to product and service design. Biometric and HMI technologies are racing forward, yet many businesses are failing to keep up with how their customers engage with their platforms and technologies. 

Banks have made it easy for us to send money online and via mobile apps, but what if they made it as seamless as sending a WhatsApp message? What if you could have a conversation with your doctor as easily as you have one with your friends? And what if taking out an insurance policy was as fast as signing up for a streaming music platform?

What experiential brands get right is not just an understanding of the technologies available, but how it changes human behaviour. Just because you’re not in entertainment doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the way games onboard users or Disney uses wearables to remove friction from their theme park experiences. 

Forcing people into clumsy, inorganic experiences when there are better options available is a sure way of driving them somewhere else. The cyborg age is here – it’s time to start designing experiences around it. 

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The myths of microwaves

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We all know microwaves make cooking a breeze and it helps save those minutes, we rarely have enough of these days. However, some people do have those lingering doubts about whether microwaving food destroys nutrients or that it emits harmful radiation. However, the truth is a lot more comforting and positive.

“The microwave makes life so much easier,” says Tracy Gordon, Head of Product – Home Appliances at Samsung South Africa. “It’s human-centred technology at its most helpful. The Samsung Hotblast for example, has revolutionary functions, which are tailor-made to create fast, tasty and healthy meals in minutes.”

A recent article by Harvard Health Publishingclaims stated that “microwave ovens cook food using waves of energy that are remarkably selective, primarily affecting water and other molecules that are electrically asymmetrical. Microwaves cause these molecules to vibrate and quickly build up thermal (heat) energy.” The article debunks two common myths about microwaving food.

Myth 1: Microwaving kills nutrients

Whether in a microwave or a regular oven, some nutrients, including vitamin C, do break down when exposed to heat. However, the fact is, cooking with a microwave might be better when it comes to preserving nutrients because it takes a shorter time to cook. Additionally, as far as vegetables go, cooking them in water robs them of some of their nutritional value because the nutrients seep out into the cooking water,” states the report by Harvard Health Publishing. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), food cooked in a microwave oven is as safe and has the same nutrient value, as food cooked in a conventional oven.

Myth 2: Microwaving food can give you cancer

The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that microwaves do not make food radioactive. Microwaves heat food but they do not change the chemical or molecular structure of it. In fact, there is absolutely no evidence that microwaves pose a health risk to people when used appropriately, the organisation added.

With those myths well busted, it’s comforting to know one can make full use of the convenient kitchen appliance. And when the time comes to use a microwave to heat up a tasty meal in no time, one can trust the Samsung Hotblast to do the job. The HotBlast has multiple air holes blowing out powerful hot air, which reduces cooking time. Samsung claims the Slim Fry technology ensures that food is perfectly crisp on the outside and delicious and juicy on the inside. Additionally, this versatile microwave has a wider grill, making it easier to brown food fast and evenly. The turntable is wider, measuring 345mm, making it possible to prepare bigger portions of food. And with its Eco Mode power, it significantly reduces energy consumption with its low standby power. Its intelligent features and stylish design makes it very useful and as we now know – a safe, healthy way to enjoy a meal.

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New BMW 3-series ushers in autonomous future

The new BMW 3-series is not meant to be an autonomous car, but it is so close, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK discovers.

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It was not meant to be a test-drive of an autonomous vehicle. But the Driving Assist button on the steering wheel of the new BMW 330i was just too tempting. And there I found myself, on Sir Lowry’s Pass near Cape Town, “driving” with my arms folded while the vehicle negotiated curves on its own.

Every 10 seconds or so, yellow or red lights flashed to alert me to put my hands back on the wheel. The yellow lights meant the car wanted me to put my hands on the wheel, just to show that I was in control. The red lights meant that I had to take over control from the artificial intelligence built into the vehicle.

With co-driver Ernest Page, we negotiated a major highway, the bends of Sir Lowry’s pass, and the passes of Hell’s Heights (Hel se Hoogte) above the Cape Winelands.

As the above video of the experience reveals, it can be nerve-racking for someone who hasn’t experienced autonomous driving, or hasn’t been dreaming of testing it for many years. For this driver, it was exhilarating. Not because the car performed so magnificently, but because it tells us just how close true autonomous driving really is.

There was one nervous moment when the autonomous – or rather, Driving Assist – mode disengaged on Hell’s Heights, but fear not. A powerful sense of responsibility prevailed, and my hands hovered over the steering wheel as it took the curve. Assist disengaged, and the car began to veer towards the other side of the road. I quickly took over, and also sobered up from the giddiness of thinking I was already in the future.

In reality, Driving Assist is part of level 2 of driving autonomy, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers. A presentation on the evening of the test drive, by Edward Makwana, manager of group product communications at BMW Group in South Africa, summed up the five stages as the driver having Feet Off, Hands Off, Eyes Off, Mind off, and finally, only being a Passenger.

However, the extent to which the hands-off mode of Driving Assist mimics self-driving, and easily shows the way to eyes-off and mind-off, is astonishing.

Click here to read about the components that make the Driving Assist work.

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